My Body, Ms. Bey, LV

I’ve transitioned into a new animal. Cast upon me the pall of the hypebeast.

For the uninitiated, hypebeasts are dudes who line up for hours to buy a t-shirt, pair of socks, or sneakers. That’s what they look like from a distance, at least. I try to skirt their blast radius. In LA, you find them along Melrose Ave. In line for Supreme, most likely—a brand that exemplifies the culture, deriving value less from design than the phenomenon of drops. AKA a mechanism for manufacturing hype. AKA scarcity. AKA the emperor of graphic tees isn’t wearing any clothes. Because he sold out. By design. Check StockX.

Am I a hypebeast or a crazy-rich Asian? Honestly, I don’t know. I doubt anyone identifies with these pejoratives. Putting the stigma aside, I would say what distinguishes me from the hypebeast is my taste. Nine times out of ten, I can tell whether a hyped-up drop is actually nice or just buzzy. The labor that goes into stories of fabulousness requires talent—an “eye”—and the look must be thought about and conceptualized, tweaked and edited, writes cultural critic madison moore in Fabulous.

But if I picture the not-so-fab hypebeasts of Silver Lake—a Brain Dead Studios oversized tee, a khaki Carhartt work jacket, a pair of zebra Yeezys—their concern is less aesthetic than social. They’re dressing to play the part, fit in. It’s not much different from the middle-school desperation to look cool. That’s why the image is so dull and predictable.

Take my bitchiness with a chunk of salt though. It’s coming from someone who owns a flabbergasting number of pieces from the adidas and Gucci collab. Watching the trailer for J.Lo’s visual album—she released a Visual Album™️, who knew?—I was counting all the Gucci that I recognized, pieces I’d tucked away in my closet. A sure sign of a Crazy Rich Asian.

So yeah, let’s cut to the chase. Obviously, I’m both these bad things. It’d be easier to call me a beast.

I’m blessed my partner accepts me. He doesn’t laugh at all the attention I dole out to drops. (It’s how we get tickets for Beyoncé.) These releases work my nerves. That’s why I cannot sleep at night. And the amount of money? Unconscionable. And how about Time, that most cherished piece in the Triforce of finite, abstract resources?

Well, for all the drops that I care about—even the ones that I don’t, quite honestly, because America has a problem: it’s me 😮‍💨—I put them all in my calendar. I will even reschedule things to be the premier monster in line.

Case in point: GOLF le FLEUR*’s pop-up brick and mortar, the blue house. Le Fleur is part of a fashion universe helmed by Tyler, The Creator. The label is boyish and high-end. If you’re not familiar with the multi-hyphenate musician, neither am I, really. I just know a few basics. He organizes the LA music festival Camp Flog Gnaw. I went one year for Solange. The next, I went for an unidentified headliner, rumors swirling it’d be Frank Ocean. When the poster’s “???” turned out to be Drake, audience members literally booed. Turning to Tyler’s own music, I saw his set at Beychella. What I remember is his screaming, light design giving horror show.

Le Fleur is the affective opposite. Think sweater vests and leather jackets, animal prints and pastel colors. A vision for menswear that’s playful. A model of masculinity that’s exuberant. I treasure the softness and fun, offset by the seriousness of menswear, a balance illustrated by the label’s wavy lines and daisies.

The blue house is part of the brand’s lore—a building shaped like a French confection. Le Fleur is usually an e-commerce business. The announcement of the in-person pop-up coincided with “season two” of the line. I drove across town, was second in line.

Drop culture extends beyond streetwear. The routines that I’ve developed for clothes prime me to be your newfound bestie on Ticketmaster and OpenTable.

I live a life that’s deeply unserious. I am symptomatic of so many problems.

On a scale of 1 to 6, 1 meaning never, 6 meaning all of the time, how often do you agree with this statement?

I grew up fat and still think I am.

I feel it. I fear it. It’s fantasy. No one sees me and sees what I see. Knowing this intellectually doesn’t stop me from seeing myself spitefully.

Just as I’m afraid to log in to my banking app lest I face the consequences of the latest luxury drop (Tyler and Louis Vuitton), I avoid weighing myself at the gym cuz I’m convinced the number’s gone up.

Every time I pass my reflection and spot a so-called muffin top—a term, while morphologically accurate, that I find emotionally misguided because the namesake pastry is a treasure; in contrast, I would hardly light up at the sight of excess around my own waist—I topple, I crumble, I deflate.

I feel good about my body as often as I eat dessert. It’s a special occasion.

So let’s answer 4 to the question above. That’s how often I lie on my body.

I’ve outgrown a lot of clothes. Like, a literal lot. Seasonally, I purge my closets. (Yes, plural, two.) If I were to lay everything out on the floor instead of stuffing it into bags for donation or selling some off with strategy, I’d recover the land mass we’ve lost to earthquakes, ice melt, etc.

Instead of waste forming into islands in the Pacific, I would knot into a chain all my shirts from LA restaurants that didn’t survive the pandemic; camp shirts from the playful brand Scotch and Soda, which I once identified with down to the smiley face on the tag—colorful, vivacious tops that may as well have been my uniform during my tenure teaching high-school English—and which I now find embarrassing, almost repulsive, clothes my father might have worn when I was growing up without him; social-justice message tees about queer Asian pride or Chinatown gentrification or—oh, who am I kidding, acting like I’m rooting for everybody Asian—about the dignity of Black people’s lives and the worlds of threats this nation invents.

I would braid from this chain a massive rope and, from that rope, assemble a bridge. Even a raft, submarine. Whether across the ocean or to the depths, I would go and recover my past selves. All the people I wished to become by buying that book, that record, that garment.

I regret not buying the black satin bomber Beyoncé sold on the Formation World Tour. (This a reminder to my partner that I went and he didn’t—ha ha 🤭.) (Jk, you sexy motherfucker. You know you’re the day-one scholar of our household. #HagHivePride.) That glossy lil’ jacket from 2016 had a big-old orchid on the back.

Discussing “Formation,” Black Studies scholar Marquis Bey writes in “Beyoncé’s Black (Ab)Normal”:

Beyoncé, then, is unsettling her place in the Black normal . . . which marks her, in a word, as Black, and even as queer. Exceeding the borders of Black normality—a necessarily fugitive and insurgent practice—denotes a break from normativity and a subversive relation to power. Put another way, actualizing a Black (ab)normal posture is an immersion in fugitivity and an immersion in the nonnormativity of queerness.

She made RENAISSANCE with house-music legends. She designed the tour for the gays. She—she thought she was killing that shit, I told her go harder—no, not her, her artistry—that’s what’s queer about Bey. Queer as in mutable and boundless. Exposing the performative nature of selfhood. Defiant of so-called authenticity. Of race and gender and genre. Queer like that.

During the Renaissance World Tour, between “BREAK MY SOUL (THE QUEENS REMIX)” and “Formation”—which is to say, in the wormhole between one Bey and another, the bridge between two camps of the Hive—an interlude plays, extravaganza. These visuals start with big letters on metal rafters, a graphic that spans the whole screen. “O P U L E N C E,” it says, then “B E Y O N C É,” the sign alternating between the two, metonymy. Meanwhile, a chrome-plated, single-braided Beyoncé slides to the center of the screen on a platform, lying uncannily like Princess Leia, captive of Jabba the Hutt. This is one of several droids during the Renaissance. There are so many that Bey even says during the show, I’m not a robot à la CAPTCHA.

After this animated moment, there is too much footage of unknown provenance for this meager plebe to track, but the common denominator is party—and not just any party but a ball. There are shots from the dance floor of the official Club Renaissance parties, where people fucked up the night to the sixty-two-minute album, maybe twice. There’s Bey sashaying down a hallway in a floor-length fur coat, shoulders serving drama like ski slopes. I may not always know what’s cunt and whether quasi-masc me gets to say, but that ski-bunny look is cunt, mamá. There’s also Mutha walking a category in ballroom, showing off all of that body. She’s in a thong and a backless crop top adorned with neon-pink feathers. She’s surrounded by trophies, spectators, and fans. A house track throbs throughout, and during Bey’s category, the vocals declare, I’m giving you 10, 10, 10.

The interlude comes to a close with an image of Bey in a red dress, velvet. The background is a landscape from a Renaissance painting. At the center of the stage, a circular threshold shows Bey’s torso, her womb. It flashes white as a familiar track plays of Baby Bey, winner of a citywide talent show: I would like to thank the judges for picking me. My parents, who I love. I love you, Houston.

Then the stage goes black, and “Formation” starts—that nasty bounce, demented like a killer clown, but just once before the legendary Kevin Jz Prodigy thunders his pronouncement: This is what I wanna see! This is what I wanna see! Lights return to the stage in white waves. The bass drops. A line of dancers in wide-brimmed hats gear up for the “Formation” choreo, rhythmic nodding and all, the one that every gay in the world knows but me.

Kevin Prodigy resumes: You know I came here to wreck shit. We shut the city down. Fuck the haters and the clowns. Awww. You mad? Well, there’s no remedy for that, bitches. I know you hear me. You’ve asked for the visuals. You’ve called for the queen. But a queen moves at her own pace, bitch—decides when she wants to give you a fucking taste. So get your fork and spoon, if you’ve got one.

This transition doesn’t last five minutes in person. Four. Three. I’m too fucking busy. Tell me what it all really means.

One: Just as “Formation” was the opening salvo of Lemonade, “BREAK MY SOUL” was the lead single for RENAISSANCE, both signaling a different tone, politics, and sensibility than their predecessors. Their juxtaposition is an instance of Verse Jumping, of one Beyoncé snapping into another.

Two: If you’ve been around gays for longer than a TikTok/if you’ve imbibed gay representation from the last ten years/if you’ve had the distinct displeasure of catching a George Santos cameo, you’re familiar with the verbiage of slayage. E.g., Beyoncé really slayed the “HEATED” rap tonight or I better slay my dissertation defense in April because gurrrrrrl, I👏🏼am👏🏼done👏🏼with👏🏼grad school. With a whole grammar lesson on conjugating “slay,” “Formation” deserves some of the credit for the householdification of gay subculture.

Marquis Bey again, regarding this song: [T]he juxtaposition of the (Black) queerness of the very term “slay” and slain Black bodies marks this “pro-Black” anthem as always, and already, queer.

Before RENAISSANCE, “Formation” was Beyoncé’s most noticeable usage of Black queer culture. The music video, the record itself, and live performances of the song, which opened the Formation World Tour, all feature New Orleans rappers Big Freedia and Messy Mya with varying degrees of prominence. Comparably iconic to the line I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay, bitch! is the image of Beyoncé with the wide-brimmed hat sitting low, the double braids, the stacks of silver necklaces, and the middle fingers. As well, the sequence of a Black boy in a hoodie before a line of police. He dances before raising his arms to the side, prompting the armed men to put up their hands. There’s a brief scan of graffiti that says Stop Shooting Us before Beyoncé goes down in a flooded New Orleans on the hood of a cop car.

“Formation” combines a Black queer bravado with an updated witchy aesthetic to assert a vaguely feminist brand of pride and resistance. As the closing track of Lemonade, it puts the “periodt” on the womanist odyssey. In other words, “Formation” subsumes Black queer voices into a Black woman’s very straight story about betrayal and redemption. One might ungenerously call the song queerbaiting.

You don’t need me to tell you that RENAISSANCE makes good on Bey’s debt to queer Black people. Everyone’s made that point with love. What I want to offer is this. The Renaissance World Tour ups the ante of Big Freedia’s I came to slay, bitch. I like corn breads and collard greens with Kevin Prodigy’s A queen moves at her own pace monologue. This change stands in for a larger shift from queer adornment to enactment. From flashing signs of gay lifestyle because that’d be fun for the girls to performing the persona of mutha because that would gag the gurlies. From using to owning, even embodying.

I am afraid of my body. How it keeps on changing.

My trainer pointed out the other day that I’ve gotten noticeably wider in the past six months.

Wider in a good way, he said. Your shoulders have been growing for a while. Now it’s your chest and lats too.

Lately, every time I put something on that I haven’t worn in a minute, it doesn’t fit anymore. Even this olive-green t-shirt, which I swear I’d just worn. A toned-down color that looks good on my skin, whose fit had made me feel like a man—by which I mean feel masc—by which I mean feel desirable.

This week, I’m working out by myself. That is, without my trainer. His wife gave birth ahead of schedule.

In royal-blue bicycle shorts, Ivy Park, and a tight, Nike tank top that’s old but still a white that Ryan Gosling would wear, I’m doing something that’s called clean-to-squats: lifting a kettlebell off the floor with the power of my ass, then lowering myself down, church girl.

I’m not used to working out alone. It gives me more time to look at myself. To recognize that the body I’m afraid of becoming—wider but not in a good way—is not the body that anyone else sees.

A man sets up beside me. I imagine him looking as I go up and down. Thinking, Look at this motherfucker go nuts.

I have felt this sense of athleticism on upper-body days as well. Shoulder presses, tricep extensions, skull crushers. But underneath the confidence and surprise—oh, is that my body?—burns a mantle of fear. A fear of getting even bigger. Of outgrowing even more of my wardrobe. Of resembling the type of man that repels me. Men so desperately attached to skull-crushing measures of masculinity.

I am afraid of my body and how it keeps on changing because where does that leave me?

What becomes of my selfhood as my body turns into a real man’s?

“Formation” (Always stay gracious/Best revenge is your papers) speeds up into “Diva” (Diva is the female version of a hustler), which explodes into a dance break, lands in the climax of a rally speech, and dragonflies into an aria. Can you see her/I’d like to meet cha/What you say/She ain’t no diva. You can almost intuit the next song—“Run the World (Girls)”—which might explain the two false starts before she really gets going, adding to that institution of a call and response, Who run the world? Girls! All of my gworls! A militaristic snare drum marches us from the Girl Power Beyoncé of 4 into the Black Power Beyoncé of BLACK IS KING. The ultimate girl comes on stage, Blue Ivy Carter rising up on a platform. This my bloodline, on the front line/Ready for war/Go, Blue! Mother and daughter dance side by side before Bey hands off the show to dance captain Amari and departs. Wartime drums make way for the horns of victory when the Queen returns on a tank, telling us heaux, I’m going back to the south . . . where my roots ain’t watered down/Growing, growing like a baobab tree. This “Black Parade” takes us on a Pan-African route right back to Bey’s H-Town ho shit, ending the set with “Savage (Remix)” (Hips tick-tock when I dance/On that demon time, she might start a OnlyFans) and “Partition” (Driver, roll up the partition fast/Handprints and footprints on my glass/Handprints and good grips all on my ass). As the tank rolls back into the tunnel, she finishes giving a lap dance to a stool, her throne atop armored vehicle.

[T]he event was made possible by queerness—and the culture of Black queers across the decades, specifically. Seeing this in a room of tens of thousands, as a disco ball passed overhead, felt stunning to the point of elation.

Bryan Washington, writer, “What Beyoncé Gave Us”

We finally turned on the heat, my partner and I. Winter, December, night. Cold, even in our city of angels.

This morning, bracketing my slutty desire to run shirtless, I put on tights, a long-sleeved shirt, and my one running jacket that’s warmer than Saran wrap. A zip-up hoodie—a holiday gift from the gym.

Because the shirt is already kind of long, the jacket looked even shorter. Once I zipped that shit up, I looked like a dark-chocolate Snickers bar.

I also packed some clothes for after the run. One of the shirts from the first RENAISSANCE drop. Size small, sleeves stupidly short, as if it had shrunk in the dryer. Also a hoodie, oversized, gray. It reads “W. E. B. DuBois” in a font so basic, you can find it on Instagram.

(If you’re thinking it, you’re absolutely right. The hoodie is a 2020 purchase. Read me!)

I left our downtown apartment. By the time I was up the 110, passing Highland Park on that infamous racetrack, I was so uncomfortable, I wanted to cry.

It’s one thing for a t-shirt to be too tight. That restricts the shoulders, which makes it look like I’m tensing up all the time, as if skirting past an encampment of hypebeasts in the open-world map of Zelda.

I’m also experienced in negotiating with pants that choke my waist, encase my thique thighs. It’s no nostalgic attachment to skinny jeans. Far from it, thanks to a local label called Goodfight—a cross-pollination of streetwear and tailoring, the progeny of four Asian Americans who identify as third-culture kids, in each of whom I see a bit of myself—I’m learning to style wide-legged pants. The thing is, my fear of looking fat is unrelenting and the least forgiving voice in my head, so even though I usually wear size 30 pants, I’ve bought Goodfight denim in 28 to lean out the silhouette just a little. Consequently, I’ll un-do the top button as needed for the sake of taking full breaths.

But as I swerved and curved up the highway, the jacket shrink-wrapping my torso—crushing, almost collapsing—I was torturing myself.

I took it off the moment that I parked. I was eager to get it out of my life. If I could have donated it on the spot, I would have. Even more of a relief than taking it off was putting on the cloud of the Du Boisian hoodie. There was the release of my body. Equally felt was the forgiveness in my psyche.

My body isn’t a problem. I am not a robot.

A queen can change and even transform without losing who I am down to the bone.

 “Formation”—a paradox of a word. A dance or military formation connotes order, confidence, collective power, but the process of formation, usually the opposite. Becoming is often a mess. It can throw you off, isolate.

This dichotomy is at the heart of queerness. It’s the hope of chosen community: becoming a radical, unforeseeable version of yourself in a circle of people doing the same.

That’s the thing about Beyoncé. It’s the paradox of her career. She continues to accumulate disciples even as she cycles through selfhoods.

Act i: RENAISSANCE. The DJ booth is conducting a troubleshoot test of the entire system. ON AIR. KNTY News. Act ii: COWBOY CARTER. “The Smoke Hour,” KNTRY Radio Texas. DJs and hosts. Linda Martell. This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience. A “live” show in three acts honoring the Black architects of American cultures. Bey’s role: teacher, director, conductor. Mutha of the House of Chrome. Silver, the writer J Wortham says in “A Silvery, Shimmering Summer of Beyoncé,” is the most powerful conductor on the planet; it moves electricity faster and more efficiently than any other material.

Bey’s career models the hope of queerness à la José Esteban Muñoz, performance-studies theorist. Studying the past to imagine new futures. Refashioning oneself with opulence and no bounds. Staying realized and true all the while.

Check her technique. Future renaissance. Study my technique. Because nothing really ends. For things to stay the same, they have to change again . . . You change your name but not the ways you play pretend. Mutability and performance would feel fraudulent in another voice. Coming from her, it’s gospel for me. It’s pure/honey, the gift of a lifetime.

Pharrell’s debut collection as creative director of Louis Vuitton finally dropped for the “public”—a rarefied bunch, I admit. The day after Instagram fed me the ad, I went to the pop-up in WeHo, my second time ever in LV. I put thought into my outfit, of course. As I told my trainer after the fact, I dressed to impress, not to prove anything. I’d learned from shopping at Gucci how to show up and disappear at the same time. To act as if I belonged even if I felt out of place.

The most strategic bid of my outfit was the shoes. Cream-white, green-striped boots from the adidas collab. It worked. After greeting me, a gentleman in a navy-blue sweater complimented the shoes. Such a slept-on collab, he said—Giovanni, a part of the team.

The two of us had a good time, which is only partly to say that he was nice to me and I believed it. Passing a leather jacket I had noticed online, a checkered brown thing that was elegant and handsome, I let on that the garment was nice but not on the table right now.

You wanna try it on? he asked.

I said sure but flagged again that it wasn’t in the cards.

It’s all good. Trying it on doesn’t mean buying, you know?

He held open the jacket. On my body, the heft of that soft, sturdy leather felt like significance.

I tried on a handful more things. A checkered-camo work jacket, elevated with tweed fabrication, pearl buttons. A pullover, checkered in two navy blues, dusk and midnight, a script detail on the chest in tiny pearls. (I didn’t ask for this, but once I put it on and he saw that it worked, he revealed it was his favorite piece in the collection.) A rugby shirt in light-weight, high-shine leather with LV branding in three ways. (I said I’d try it on just to try it on. He said it’s dope—and, in a whisper, expensive. Once I had it on, he geeked out about the references to ‘90s hip hop.)

So are you in fashion? he asked.

No, just a fan, I said, my default response to this interpretation of me.

It comes up when I bring in clothes for resale, and the purchaser decides to buy most of my bag. A rather different class scenario than this LV pop-up.

I take it as a compliment of my taste. My looks make abundantly clear I know how to be noticed. When people acknowledge my style, I feel that I’ve broken through everything that prevents Asian American men from being seen.

Giovanni replied, The way you talk about clothes, the verbiage—you know what you’re talking about, so I figured.

You know what it is? I was surprised and relieved by the validation. All this was so new: the luxury, the looks, the confidence. The sense of mattering in the world. Saying any of this would give me away. It’s just a lot of Project Runway.

You know what? That’s right. I’ve watched fifteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, so that makes me a surgeon, right?

On our way to the register, I asked if there were any pieces that he wished somebody would try on.

That’s funny, he said. I was just about to show you this.

A button-up that fit more like a jacket in a muted, almost matte-black leather, the LV monogram embossed in disciplined rows all over.

I put it on. Another man who worked there, a young white gay in a full suit, called it fire.

You should be our fit model.

You know, Giovanni said. There’s something different about you. Not everyone is so willing to try things on. They think we’re trying to make them buy something—which, yeah, there’s that—but it’s also just fun, you know? We get to see how things look. Live vicariously through you guys.

I ended up getting two things, including a denim jacket, checkered in shades of blue. A Monet palette, wistful, nostalgic.

That night, I did not sleep well, but I did have a dream of Beyoncé. In real life, she had attended Pharrell’s debut show in Paris with Jay, taking photos like family at graduation. In my dream, she was in the same Impressionist denim jacket that I’d bought, a head-to-toe look with matching pants—a human cloud, sliding by to reveal a constellation of Black stars, her sky a pantheon.

A month later, at the 2024 Grammys, Beyoncé actually wore head-to-toe LV. A checkered black look in leather from Pharrell’s latest, a Western collection. As you might know from memes, she accessorized with a cowboy hat and bolo tie. The following week, in the middle of the Super Bowl, she announced act ii of the trilogy.

So I was already spiritually in line for Pharrell’s LV when things got even more dire. In the second-to-last week of February, it came out that Pharrell was collaborating with Tyler, The Creator. An LV x Le Fleur capsule. Talk about seriousness and play. A masculinity that bends rules toward beauty.

I saw another life for me in these clothes. Gentler. Freer. Pure. A child assured of his worthiness. If only I could corset all this longing.

My wardrobe is already a galaxy of possible selfhoods. It should cost a billion to look this good—to look this much like yourself, ever changing.

There’s a high price on becoming. I don’t see myself kicking the habit.


You’ve been conditioned to witness the miraculous—seen every medical marvel flash before your eyes one thousand times on-screen—doesn’t she watch Untold Stories from the E.R.?

My Cotton Creole Sister

She chooses her dignity over her desire to be “in” with the crowd, no posse but her own.

homage to hip thrusts

During my workouts I imagine the possibility that my mother and I are almost the same person, the same spirit.